Rafah push could trigger 'another humanitarian crisis', Borrell warns

A photo provided by the Israel Defense Forces shows a tank with an Israel flag on it entering the Gazan side of the Rafah border crossing on Tuesday, May 7, 2024.
A photo provided by the Israel Defense Forces shows a tank with an Israel flag on it entering the Gazan side of the Rafah border crossing on Tuesday, May 7, 2024. Copyright AP/AP
Copyright AP/AP
By Euronews
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The European Commission is reinstating funding for a key UN agency, UNRWA, that was accused of harbouring staff who participated in the 7 October massacre.


As Israel appears to begin its long-feared assault on Rafah in the Gaza Strip, the EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has warned that the consequences for the hundreds of thousands sheltering there could be dire.

Speaking to the press, Borrell described the blockage of a ceasefire deal that was first accepted by Hamas before being shunned by Israel as "sad news".

"Hamas accepted, Israel rejected, and the land offensive against Rafah has started again," Borrell said, "in spite of all the requests of the international community, the US, the European Union member states, everybody asking Netanyahu not to attack Rafah. In spite of these warning and these requests, the attack started yesterday night."

Israel appears to be pushing towards a full-blown offensive in Rafah despite ever more serious warnings from even its top international allies, including the US. It confirmed overnight that its forces had taken "operational control" of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

The Israeli military previously warned civilians to evacuate to the city in the south of the Gaza Strip ahead of its offensive in the north, but even areas that were declared safe have seen devastating airstrikes and land attacks by Israeli forces. 

Some 1.4 million people are now effectively trapped in Rafah with little to no chance of escape.

The obstruction of food and medical aid, along with the destruction of medical facilities, has exacerbated the humanitarian impact of the offensive, which Israel claims is necessary for the destruction of Hamas as a fighting force.

"I am afraid that this is going to cause again a lot of casualties, civilian casualties," Borrell told the assembled journalists. "Whatever they say, there are 600,000 children in Gaza. They will be pushed to the so-called 'safe zones'. There are no safe zones in Gaza."

"And the ministers will discuss about how to increase our support. But on the next Council [of the EU], the political dimension of this crisis will be once again taken into consideration."

Help on the way

Borrell also said that he hoped to see the full resumption of European financial support to UNRWA, the foremost UN agency helping displaced Palestinians, after many backers halted their payments to it over reports a handful of its staff were involved in Hamas' 7 October massacre last year.

A recent UN-commissioned review led by former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna found that the organisation has robust processes to enforce staff neutrality and displays "a more developed approach to neutrality than other similar UN or NGO entities".

"Now the Colonna report is there, I don't see any reason for not starting again the payments, the full payments, to UNRWA," Borrell said.

"UNRWA is a critical institution for the support to hundreds of thousands, to millions, of people, and the idea of cutting funding to UNRWA has no basis."

Borrell declined to discuss the possibility of the EU imposing sanctions in response to a full-blown offensive but did not hold back from warning about the likely consequences.

"I cannot anticipate the humanitarian losses that this will create," he said. "It is clear they will continue the war, will produce a greater humanitarian crisis, which is bigger than what it is already. Let’s see how we can try to mitigate the consequences of this situation."

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